WunderBlog Archive » Weather Extremes

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

December 2012 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By: Christopher C. Burt, 11:42 PM GMT on January 10, 2013

December 2012 Global Weather Extremes Summary

December was notable for Typhoon Bopha, the deadliest single weather event of 2012, some major snowstorms in the U.S., record heat in Brazil and Thailand, and unusually cold conditions in China, Korea, Japan, and Central Asia. Christmas week brought an extensive tornado outbreak to portions of the U.S. South and Southeast.

Below are some of the month’s highlights.


After a warm start, real winter weather finally returned to the continental U.S. with two major snowstorms affecting the country. The first storm dropped near record snowfall amounts in southern Wisconsin with 20” (50 cm) accumulations reported at a couple of locations. On December 19-20 Madison reported 15.1” (38.4 cm), its 4th greatest 24-hour total on record.

Heavy snow engulfs the Wisconsin State Capitol on December 20th. The Madison Airport recorded 15.1” officially but amounts at the capitol Building were measured at 18”. Photo by Danny Kahrs.

Ironically, Madison recorded its warmest December temperature ever measured with a 65°F (18.3°C) reading on December 3rd (record temperatures into the mid 70°s reached as far north as central Illinois, and Ottawa, Canada had its warmest December day on record with 17.9°C/64.2°F on December 4th). A 2nd major winter storm brought heavy snow from Oklahoma to New York State on December 25-26. Little Rock, Arkansas enjoyed its deepest snowstorm since 1963 when 9.0” accumulated on Christmas Day. Albion, in southeastern Illinois recorded the greatest accumulation with 18.3”. The Christmas storm also produced a tornado outbreak in the Deep South with 27 tornadoes reported from Texas to North Carolina. 25 of the tornadoes occurred on Christmas Day, the most ever for the date. Fortunately, there were no tornado-related deaths reported with the outbreak.

The interior of Alaska suffered through one of its coldest Decembers on record. Fairbanks averaged -17.3°F (-27.4°C) for the month, some 13.2°F (7.3°C) below normal. 10 days saw temperatures fall below -40°F (-40°C) with a low of -48°F (-44.4°C) on December 17th.

Temperature and precipitation ranking maps for the continental U.S. for December. The eastern half of the country was warmer than average whereas the western half was close to normal. Maps from NESDIS/NOAA.

The coldest temperature measured in the northern hemisphere and the world during December was -63.1°C (-81.6°F) at Summit, Greenland on December 28th.


Extreme heat waves affected northern Argentina and southern Brazil during the month. Rio de Janeiro recorded its hottest temperature on record when it hit 43.2°C (109.8°F) at its Santa Cruz station on December 24th. An unofficial reading of 43.8°C (110.8°F) was reported from Criciuma which, if verified, would be the 2nd highest temperature ever measured in Brazil (the highest being 44.6°C/112.3°F at Orleans on January 6, 1963). Argentina saw a peak temperature of 45.0°C (113.0°F) at Catamarca on December 16th.


Some heavy snow and cold temperatures affected a wide swath of Western Europe from Scandinavia to the Ukraine. Stockholm reported about 25 cm (10”) of snow one day, its heaviest daily snowfall in about 10 years.

England wrapped up its wettest year since 1910 and the U.K. its 2nd wettest (2000 was its wettest). The warmest temperature measured in the U.K. during December was 15.0°C (59.0°F) at Westonzoyland, Somerset on December 22nd and the coldest -12.9°C (8.8°F) at Braemar, Scotland on December 6th. The maximum 24-hour precipitation reported was 89.4 mm (3.52”) at Tyndrum, Perthshire on December 20-21.


The warmest temperatures measured in the northern hemisphere during December were a pair of 40.0°C (104.0°F) readings at Diourbel and Kaolack, Senegal on December 11th.


The biggest weather story of the month and, so far as the number of lives lost, the year, was Typhoon Bopha that roared ashore on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines on December 3rd. One-minute sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) were estimated at its time of landfall making it the strongest typhoon ever to strike the island. The final death toll remains uncertain with 1,067 confirmed fatalities and 834 missing and presumed dead (mostly fisherman).

The incredible destruction caused by Typhoon Bopha can be seen in this photo of a banana plantation near New Bataan town in the Compostela Valley on Mindanao Island, Philippines. Photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters.

Extreme cold persisted across China, Korea, and northern Japan during the month. Central Asia also experienced a sharp cold wave with Kazakhstan official temperatures falling as low as -45°C (-49°F) at Pavlodar and unofficially as low as an unbelievable -59°C (-74.2°F) at the village of Orlovka. Northern India saw the beginning of an historic cold spell during the last week of December. Kolkata (Calcutta) saw six consecutive days from January 23-28 with maximum temperatures below 20.5°C (69°F), the longest such stretch of cool temperatures since records began some 130 years ago. In contrast, Bangkok, Thailand experienced its warmest December on record. The city’s Klong Toey site averaged 30.4°C (86.7°F) for the month, surpassing the previous record set in December 1997. This is especially anomalous since December is normally the coolest month of the year for Bangkok. There are few, if any, other examples in the climatological record for a tropical location exceeding it's record warmth by such a margin during its normally coolest month. The average December temperature for Bangkok is 25.9°C (77.5°F)--a normal high of about 31°C (87°F) and low of 20°C (68°F). So the average monthly temperature was equivalent to what its normal average high should have been!


December was drier and much warmer than normal across the continent during the month. It was the 4th warmest December on record for the country as a whole. Of course, the heat that began in December has now become legendary this January.

Portions of Australia reported their warmest December on record and it was the 4th warmest December nation-wide (top map). Precipitation was generally drier than normal although a small area south of Perth in Western Australia saw its wettest December on record (bottom map). Maps courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The hottest temperature observed was 47.3°C (117.1°F) at Emu Creek, Western Australia on December 23rd and the coldest -5.3°C (22.5°F) at Mount Baw Baw, Victoria on December 10th. The greatest calendar day precipitation reported was 210.8 mm (8.30”) at Yourdamung Lake, Western Australia on December 13th. The storm that brought this rainfall to extreme southwestern Australia was phenomenal and you can read more about it in my blog on the subject posted last month.


December saw a deadly tornado outbreak on the 6th affecting the Auckland area. Three deaths were reported in Hobsonville, tying the nation’s deadliest previous tornado event.

The tornado of December 6th that resulted in three fatlaities in the Auckland suburbs. Photographer unknown.

The warmest temperature reported in New Zealand during the month was 34.5°C (94.1°F) at Gisborne, South Island on December 19th and the coldest -1.7°C (28.9°F) at Motu, North Island on December 1st. The greatest calendar day rainfall was 319 mm (12.56”) at Milford Sound, South Island on December 31st.

One of the worst tropical cyclones on record struck the Samoan Islands and Fiji December 12-17th. Cyclone Evan brought winds over 100 mph to Samoa and up to 130 mph to northwestern Fiji. Fourteen fatalities were reported in Samoa and damage was estimated at $160 million.


The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere during December was -44.2°C (-47.6°F) recorded at Concordia station on December 2nd.

KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data and Jeremy Budd and NIWA for New Zealand data.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.